DECATUR, Ala - A program growing across the country and spreading through Alabama gives students the chance to add different technology-related certifications to their resume before they even get a diploma.
Microsoft's Imagination Academy gives kids an extra push in increasingly high-demand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and IT (Information Technology) fields.
"We've been trying to do things that will increase the industry-recognized credentials around the state," said Representative Terri Collins (R-Decatur).
Rep. Collins is also the chair of the House Education Committee and she said Imagine Academy better equips public school students through its tech and IT skills and certifications.
"They're in some of the fields where we know we have a huge shortage of workforce talent," said Rep. Collins.
She goes on to say that they produce a streamline to high-paying jobs that lead to tax-paying citizens so that creates an added benefit for the state down the line.
The program continues to grow, with a recently launched computer science and STEM curriculum.
But it has already produced success stories.
"I was the first one in the state of Alabama to be certified as the master," said college freshman Bryan Keenum.
Being certified as a master means Keenum is credentialed in seven Microsoft programs, which he said helped land him his current IT job with Decatur City Schools.
He started with classes focused on Microsoft Word his freshman year at Decatur High School, but went much further, including classes in extracurricular studies for most of his high school career.
"You only get so much typing an essay or running three or four numbers through Excel to get an addition problem," said Keenum. He hopes to see the program grow and benefit more students like him.
Microsoft officials say Imagine Academy is available in most public school districts across the state.
"To try to give opportunities for our students so they'll have access to those jobs that are already available and out there. That is what made me excited about this program," said Rep. Collins.
Certifications are not limited to Microsoft products, but work to reflect the needs of a changing industry.
"All of these jobs rely heavily on technology and having a foundational knowledge is key," said Keenum.
There have been nearly 40,000 Imagine Academy certifications earned through last year.
On the workforce side, as of February of this year, there were more than 5,300 open positions seeking specific Microsoft certifications and skills.